I was surprised to learn that many people find Dutch and Danish to be similar. I’ve always understood why people believe Dutch and German are similar, because technically Dutch can be seen as a dialect of German. However, the stretch from Dutch to Danish was surprising to me and, after some research, I can now see why people believe these languages are similar.
There are also sub-groups in the Germanic languages: West Germanic, East Germanic, and North Germanic. Dutch falls in the category of West Germanic, along with German, Afrikaans, English, and West German. Sadly, East German is not used much any more, and is on the verge of extinction. Danish is categorized under North Germanic, which also includes Norwegian, Icelandic, and Swedish. Even though both Dutch and Danish are Germanic languages, there have striking differences.
Danish still uses the æ, whereas Dutch does not. Although this may be considered a minor difference, it still has significant impact on grammar. Phonetically, there are even more differences. Dutch syntax is more complicated than Danish because Danish uses a High German word transposing order.
Consonants are also switched differently in Danish than in Dutch. The Danish drop most of their verb endings, whereas the Dutch do not. In Danish, all three genders (masculine, feminine, and neutral) are kept, but in Dutch they are either common (masculine/feminine) or neutral.
Speaking Dutch and Danish
As a native Dutch speaker, it is very different for me to speak Danish phonetically. Funny enough, though, when I travel abroad I’ve often been confused for a Dane. Although the phonetics in both languages is similar, I have a hard time finding them to be similar. Some say that the tones and vowel usage are almost the same; I can barely find any similarities when listening objectively.
Before writing this blog post, I worked hard to find some similarities. When I studied Spanish, it was easy, for example, to find similarities with a language like Italian. Spanish sounds gentler, whereas Italian sounds rougher to me. Thinking of it this way, I can draw thin lines of similarity between Dutch and Danish.
Viking Influence in Denmark
In the Netherlands there is a sense that, when the Franks conquered the Dutch, our language changed. The theory is that the Vikings conquered the Dutch and we developed more of a Norse tone, and that when the Germanic tribes came, our language changed slightly, and after the French took over, our language adapted again. This theory means that, before the Germanics came, Dutch and Danish would have been more similar than they are now. Still, the differences and similarities between Dutch and Danish today are plentiful.